Crash Mitchell: A hard-core punk troubadour keeps surviving with a smile
(All this week, we’re spotlighting tbt*’s 2012 Ultimate Local Artists on Soundcheck. Today: Crash Mitchell.)
At 42, Sean “Crash” Mitchell is among the elder statesman of the Tampa Bay music scene, perhaps second only to Ronnie Elliott. He has been a powerful presence here for almost 20 years.
In 1993 he began playing coffeehouses, plunking out tunes on an acoustic Martin knock-off his father gave him. By ’95 he was playing with a full-fledged band assembled by plucking various musicians from other groups in the local scene. Over the years this morphed into what is now known as the Crash Mitchell Five, a group that expertly embraces his punk sneer and country twang.
Through his music, he champions Florida — Tampa in particular (Florida Boy, Good City Gone Bad) — as well as the decline of modern country music (Satan Moved to Nashville), and surgical enhancement (Boobies for My Birthday). Mitchell has always been a strong supporter of local music and musicians; constantly performing at benefits and anywhere anyone within earshot can hear him.
A couple of years ago, the local music community had a chance to return the favor. In October 2010, Mitchell’s mother found him passed out on their living room couch (not so out of the ordinary). When she returned eight hours later to find him in the same position, unconscious and unresponsive (definitely out of the ordinary), he was rushed to the hospital.
His initial diagnosis was influenza A, pneumonia and a minor heart attack. Intubated and at times unconscious Mitchell communicated through hand signals (mostly thumbs up for “yes,” an extended middle finger for “no”). Throughout his 2-1/2 month stint in the hospital, he battled pain medication-induced hallucinations and a level of discomfort and agony he had never experienced before. (And that’s saying a lot. Mitchell had been a victim of two major car accidents, with the second leaving him with a broken neck and confined to a halo brace for 14 months.)
“I was losing my mind,” he said of his 2010 illness. “I was in so much pain and nothing was getting done about it. One time I broke out screaming and crying in hysterics. I was freaking out. I was in such a horrible emotional state.”
Due to a port in his thigh used to deliver medication, he developed a volleyball-sized hematoma and multiple blood clots in both legs. After he was released from the hospital, Mitchell had to go to rehab to learn to walk again. “I went from being bed-ridden to learning to get out of bed, to a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane, to now learning to walk without the cane,” he said.
That November, local musicians came to his aid with an event called Crash-E-Oke which raised over $2,000 to help with Mithcell’s medical bills. The fundraiser was organized by Mitchell’s keyboardist, Paul Catala, and featured a cast of local heavy hitters (Elliott, Rebekah Pulley, Ed Lowry, Poetry N’ Lotion) who showcased their own interpretations of Mitchell’s songs. Mitchell was able to attend, via wheelchair and was beside himself with gratitude.
“Man, I didn’t think anyone would ever do a benefit for me,” he said. “It was really neat to seed other people play my songs. It was awesome.”
Now on the road to recovery, Crash is happy, creative,and productive. He’s working on songs for a new album, Floridiot by Birth, slated for release in early 2013.
“I was so depressed in the hospital thinking I wasn’t gonna make it out of there, thinking I was gonna die,” he said. “I was in so much pain and misery. I definitely got a new lease on life. I’m so happy to still be alive. ... When you’re recording, it makes life seem worth living. To record is to live; It makes me feel like I’m worth a s---.”
-- Aaron Lepley, tbt*